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Biomedical engineering: a path to medical school
Brooke Cohen, Undergraduate Student
Hometown: Austin, TX
BME Degree Program: B.S. in BME, with a concentration in biomaterials and drug delivery (BMDD)
Lab affiliation/Adviser: Jonathan Butcher
Awards/Honors: Dean’s List (6x), ELI summer funding through Wood Excellence in Engineering Grant
I chose Cornell because of the size of the BME program and the dedication to their students. All of the Cornell BME professors are highly invested in the program and are amazing educators. At Cornell, you’re not just a number, you are an individual, whereas it can be harder to get that individualized attention at a larger school. At every school I visited as a high school junior, I reached out to faculty whose work I was interested in. I had reached out to Professor Butcher, and he set up a meeting between myself, him, and the undergraduate coordinator for BME at the time. We ended up talking for an hour about my ambitions and the Cornell BME program. That conversation was what ultimately made me choose Cornell BME. A few years later, when I was at Cornell, I reached out to Prof. Butcher again, this time inquiring about a position in his lab. He interviewed me and I started a few weeks later. This was a full circle moment for me, and I’ve loved working in the Butcher Lab for the past three years.
I had always been interested in the medical field, and in high school, I was on a robotics team, which fostered my love of engineering. I actually didn’t even know that biomedical engineering existed until my junior year in high school. As I read more about it, specifically tissue engineering and biomaterial applications, I knew that it was what I wanted to do. It combined some of my favorite high school classes: chemistry, biology, math, with my favorite field, medicine and included the problem solving techniques that were the reason I fell in love with engineering. I believe that as engineering and medicine converge, there will be a growing need for physicians with an understanding of the new technologies that will be the future of the medical field. I intend to be one of those physicians
How did you decide to concentrate in biomaterials and drug delivery (BMDD)?
In fifth grade I remember reading an article about researchers at Clemson who had 3-D printed some of the first living cells onto a hydrogel. Although I didn’t really understand it at the time, I thought it was so interesting. Tissue engineering is something that I’ve been interested in ever since, and learning how pharmaceuticals are developed and made correlates with my interests in chemistry and medicine, so going into the Biomaterials and Drug Delivery concentration was an easy decision to make.
What do you think are some of the most important skills or lessons you’ve learned while pursuing this major?
I would say that my most important skill is time management. I always keep a daily to-do list and calendar. It is easy to lose track of all the meetings, classes, assignments, and exams you have, so a calendar or scheduling app (I use Notion) is essential.
What advice might you give other students considering BME?
This might sound cliché, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. The professors want to help you learn the material, so even if you think it is stupid, ask. Go to office hours, they help so much on assignments and hard concepts.
This might be more applicable to life generally, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and if you make a mistake, own up to it and learn from it. It might be embarrassing in the moment, but it is much better to learn from a mistake and learn how to prevent it in the future than make the same mistake multiple times.
Any interests outside of or in relationship to your scholarship?
I have been a member of the Butcher Lab since my sophomore year, working on the development of a bioprosthetic heart valve. I have simulated outcomes, run flow tests, and done staining to quantify cell adhesion. I also created the lab website at butcherlab.com.
I would say my most important commitment outside of BME is my teaching. I have been a TA in some capacity since my second semester freshman year. I have TA’d three semesters of Intro Physics, one semester of Biomolecular Thermodynamics, and I’m going on my third semester as a Matlab consultant. I love teaching others and teaching assistants are some of the most valuable resources for me as a student, so I chose to give back by being a teaching assistant.
I also was president of Alpha Omega Epsilon, and engineering professional sorority on campus, and was on executive board for two years.
What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience so far and why?
My favorite classes were Engineering Principles of Drug Delivery (BME 6210) with Professor Putnam and Biomedical Analysis of Metabolic and Structural Systems with Professor Bonassar. These are upper level classes, so I really got to see how all the foundational things I had learned were applied in actual biomedical engineering applications. In addition, both of the professors for those classes are fantastic and very engaging.
What’s the next step for you?
I will be taking a gap year while applying to medical school. During this year I will be working as a medical scribe at Texas Orthopedics in Austin.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
In one of my favorite books, All the Bright Places, the world lovely is a theme. Lovely is used to describe the beauty and goodness of the world around us and the people in it. The phrase “make it lovely” is one of my mottos, reflecting my desire to make the world a better place.